Chester Bennington, the lead singer of the band Linkin Park, was found dead on Thursday in his home near Los Angeles. The coroner’s office has confirmed that the 41-year-old died of suicide. That’s something I — and so many millions of other Americans suffering from mental illness — have considered.
The platinum-selling lead singer was open about his depression and anxiety. In Linkin Park’s single “Heavy,” Bennington sings: “I don’t like my mind right now / Stacking up problems that are so unnecessary / Wish I could slow things down.” And the lyrics in their hit single “Crawling,” deal with substance abuse: “There’s something inside me that pulls beneath the surface / Consuming, confusing.”
Bennington suffered, but he was not alone. In the United States, nearly one in five adults have some form of mental illness in a given year. That means that 43.8 million adults, nearly twice the population of Australia, experience a mental health disorder every year.
Yet more often than not, we don’t talk about mental health. And shows like Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why” or artists like indie pop singer Lana Del Rey have sensationalized or glamorized mental illness and suicide rather than taking it seriously.
Worldwide, 350 million people (that’s 5 percent of the population) suffer from depression every day. And they are suffering – and sometimes dying – in silence because we can’t seem to talk openly about mental health. Middle and high school health classes are the perfect place to begin the dialogue but mental health education in the classroom is essentially nonexistent.
When I began self-harming I was in sixth grade. In my middle school health class we learned about nocturnal ejaculations and how pubic hair would soon be growing all over our bodies but we never talked about our mental health. In high school, as I was becoming more withdrawn, we learned how to put condoms on a banana, we discussed alcohol and drugs while watching a few episodes of “Freaks and Geeks” but we never defined illnesses like depression, anxiety, personality disorders, suicide or PTSD, or learned that 50 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14.
In college, I became even more depressed. I would cry myself to sleep. My weight fluctuated by 10 to 20 pounds each semester. I would drink to forget and in my drunken blurs I leaned far too heavily and unfairly on friends who were just as lost and scared as I was. During what felt like the worst period of my depression, I took a health and wellness class my junior year. In that class, we discussed nutrition, healthy relationships and conflict resolution skills. We even had a unit on “stress management and resiliency.” But we never talked about mental illness or how to recognize or treat it.
And the truth is that everyone can benefit from learning about mental health. It shouldn’t scare us; it should light a fire under us to ensure that people across the United States and the world can recognize these illnesses like they would high cholesterol or asthma or any other health condition.
We should not be afraid to put a name to these illnesses. Chester Bennington wasn’t. We should not be afraid to come forward or tell our stories about our struggles with these issues. We should be open to learning the symptoms and the signs of mental health disorders. We should encourage everyone (not just those with mental health issues) to seek therapy because therapy is good for your mind just as exercise is good for your body.
If it was not for my family and friends, who knows what would have happened to me. But I do know that if I had learned about depression and anxiety, or even that therapy is an option, when I was 11, I wouldn’t be staring at my faded scars as I write this. We must push the conversation about mental illness forward whether it be in the classrooms of public schools or with our families and friends. These issues are real and lethal, and the first means of prevention is acknowledging their existence.
Robert Rigo is a recent graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.